Compliments in Marriage
Everyone likes to receive a sincere and genuine compliment. They strengthen, comfort, and energize a person. Mark Twain said, “I can live for two months on a good compliment.” How long can we survive without compliments? How long can a marriage survive without compliments?
Compliments can be genuine or sycophantic. A genuine compliment is given without the need to receive one in return. It is meant to warm the heart and build bridges of trust. A sycophantic compliment is only given in order to receive an advantage or reward, often expecting the same or another compliment given back. This is manipulative and destroys relationships.
There will likely be times when your spouse is angry with you, or perhaps will say things to you or about you that will hurt your feelings. These are the very times when you will struggle with sharing compliments, but remember, compliments are meant to strengthen the relationship. Compliments are to be given unconditionally if you want to protect your marriage from criticism’s razor sharp damage.
No matter where you are in your relationship, whether it is strong or struggling, keep those compliments going! Many marriages struggle with finding new compliments or feel that they once complimented their spouse on something, so why should they do it again? Just because we fill up our cars with fuel doesn’t mean we won’t need to again. Compliments serve as fuel to strengthen a person and that relationship; to limit or avoid giving compliments is the same as limiting the distance you can go in your relationship. Compliments strengthen the relationship, in part, by strengthening the commitment within that relationship.
Gender differences can often play a role in whether the compliment is fully appreciated by the person it’s given to. For example, telling your husband that you appreciate that he is cute and sensitive may yield a negative reaction if your husband sees himself—or wishes you to see him—as more masculine. Or telling your wife that you appreciate that she is so sexy, beautiful, and pretty may create the impression in her mind that you don’t think she is smart.
Of course, it’s difficult to know which way your spouse will respond if you offer non-stereotypical compliments, but at least consider replacement compliments. For example, you see your husband as cute, so a replacement characteristic (or one that will share a similar meaning for him) may be “fun” or that you love his humor. Or if you want to tell your wife you think she’s beautiful in a million ways, you may want to let her know that you are focusing on more than her figure. Let her know you love her eyes (you better know her eye color) and that she makes you feel like a million bucks (you better know how). By all means, do not say that she looks “fine.” (If you don’t get it, you will!)
Another issue may be that many of the things you are grateful for are the things your spouse use to do. Don’t even bring those things up. We are in the present and bringing up things you appreciated in the past will be interpreted as not being appreciative of your spouse in the present.
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